Documenting law enforcement is a helpful way to encourage accountability and enforce justice—in fact, many high-profile cases of police misconduct have involved independent photos and videos.
Photographing or filming the police is protected by the 1st Amendment (Religion and Expression). As long as you are documenting things that are plainly visible in public places, the police cannot ask you to stop.
When recording police officers, always remain a safe distance away. To reduce risk, remember to announce your intention to take out your phone or camera before doing so—otherwise, the police may assume that you’re reaching for a weapon. Don’t interfere with police activity or break any laws (like trespassing) in order to continue recording.
The police cannot demand to view your photos or videos without a warrant or delete your data under any circumstances, even if you are placed under arrest.
If you believe that your photos or videos may be useful in a court of law, you can submit them to relevant parties along with a written statement describing what they show.
Questions & Answers
Can law enforcement stop me from filming the police?
- No, you always have the right to film police from a safe distance.
What should I do with any documentation of police misconduct? Should I report this to the police station?
- Make copies of the file on a backup or cloud software before alerting local law enforcement.
Let’s say I observe an officer abusing their power but don’t feel comfortable reporting it to the police, what other options do I have?
- You can report to a civil rights attorney or a local community organization that may be supportive of the protest.